Lightning retooling around Oberfeld

6-9 center is Eastview’s only returning starter

Ben Oberfeld (44), the Eastview boys basketball team’s lone returning starter, had 13 points and 16 rebounds in the Lightning’s victory over Duluth East on Dec. 1. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Prognosticators say the balance of power in South Suburban Conference boys basketball has shifted to the west side of Apple Valley. But Eastview, despite having only one returning starter, says it’s not giving up on the idea of retaining its league championship.

“In our program, the goal every year is to win the conference,” said senior guard Ryan Lockard, a Lightning captain. “That hasn’t changed this year.”

For now, though, most of the attention is going to the team on the other side of Apple Valley. Apple Valley started the season as the top-ranked team in Class 4A. Tyus Jones, considered the nation’s top college recruit in the class of 2014, leads a group of four returning starters for Apple Valley.

Eastview’s lineup will consist of Ben Oberfeld and a bunch of guys who are anxious to show they can play, too.

“We’ll be an under-the-radar team, and we don’t mind that,” coach Mark Gerber said after the Lightning defeated Duluth East 58-54 in its season opener Dec. 1. “The first part of the season is going to be about figuring out roles, but we’re fortunate to have a lot of skilled players in our program.”

Oberfeld, a 6-foot-9 senior captain and Bucknell University recruit, is the lone returning starter and the only returnee among last year’s top eight scorers. He averaged about 11 points a game last season on a team that shared the SSC title with Lakeville North and reached the state Class 4A tournament. This year, he will have to score, rebound, defend, pass, lead, and anything else the Lightning can think of.

“He’s the kind of player everybody would like to coach,” Gerber said.

Oberfeld has to get used to being double-teamed virtually every time he gets the ball near the basket, but he had a double-double – 13 points and 16 rebounds –in Saturday’s victory over Duluth East.

Gerber is hoping Oberfeld’s rebounding performance against Duluth East proved contagious. “We rebounded really well,” the coach said. “We out-rebounded them 48-32.”

Lockard also had 13 points against Duluth East. Junior guard Mark Dwyer had 11 and senior guard Joe Schlosser added eight.

Junior guard Marcus Frederickson, senior guard Jalen Reynolds, sophomore guard Drew Guebert and junior forward Dar Nwaudo also are among those seeking spots in the Lightning’s rotation. So too is senior captain T.J. Sinn, who missed the Duluth East game because of a concussion but is expected to be available when Eastview plays defending state Class 4A champion Osseo at the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at 5:15 p.m. Saturday at Minnetonka High School.

Eastview’s less-heralded players made big contributions in the final minutes of the Duluth East game. Dwyer found Lockard cutting to the basket for a layup with less than one minute to play to put the Lightning up by two. With Eastview still holding a two-point lead, Nwaudo grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and his team retained possession. The Greyhounds were forced to foul Dwyer, who made two free throws to secure the victory.

“Ben wasn’t with us that much during the summer, and it forced the rest of our guys to learn how to do those things,” Gerber said. “I think that was a benefit. They learned about being tough and executing at the end of a game.”

The Lightning held opponents to 50 points a game last season. With Eastview lacking a scoring threat similar to what it had last year in Joey King (who’s now playing at Drake University), defense becomes an even bigger priority.

“Eastview’s a defensive program,” Lockard said. “Everybody who plays here knows that.”

That defensive prowess figures to be tested by Osseo on Saturday and Hopkins next week. Eastview travels to Hopkins, winner of three consecutive Class 4A championships from 2009-11, for a 7 p.m. game Tuesday.